Thoughts about Home: Part Two

Continued from Part One*

Part Two: The Physical Location – How Do You Make a Place Your Home? 

When you own a house, you have the right to change whatever you’d like. This is assuming you aren’t breaking any zoning ordinances or design review standards, of course. And to quell the rumor: if you have a house listed in the National Register of Historic Places, you are only required to follow state and federal review if you are receiving state or federal permits or money. A listing does not dictate your every move with your house. Still, you should respect the historic integrity of your house and community. But, aside from that, let’s talk about making a place a home in terms of the tangible elements.

How do homeowners begin to make their mark? Paint is the first and easiest answer. Gwynn lives in Northern California and though she rents, she plans to immediately paint when she does own a house. A fresh coat of paint does wonders. Removing wall to wall carpets is an easy (albeit annoying) task that can immediately change the look of your house.

When we own a place, often the best way to go about making a place your home is by living in it for a while and getting to know it, as Jim suggests: “I prefer to buy a place I can live in for several years as is, while I get to know it and form plans for how to make it more mine. In this case, I have been slowly taking up the carpets so I can live on the hardwood floors that lurk beneath, and I remodeled the bathroom, but that’s it over the six years I’ve been here.”

Jane (Vermont) sees her house as an on-going project, too: “I am removing the vinyl siding, replacing the ‘lifetime replacement windows’….insulating as I go. Maybe some day I will get to the kitchen. We’ve done the basics: roof, plumbing, electrical, heating.”

Yet, if you rent, what can you do? Most landlords allow you to paint in reasonable colors. Nothing neon or black (probably not even pink). White is a good option to make everything look fresh and clean. Colors add life to apartments. Some landlords are kind enough to upgrade appliances or door locks. Others landlord will let you do work, as long as they do not have to pay for it.

My experience has been the latter: my landlords are happy to allow me to paint or make minor repairs on my own dime. I’ll always paint because the standard beige/off-white apartment wall color is too blasé for me. If I’m going to live in a place for a year or more, I’ll gladly invest in a few cans of paint and hours of my time (and I love to paint). My biggest endeavor to date is a drop ceiling removal (which is another story, but one that was done out of sheer necessity. My pet peeve is a drop ceiling – a filthy, mismatched, aesthetically unpleasing one at that).

And for those who cannot do any painting? Our stuff – furniture, linens, artwork makes all the difference, of course. Dave (NYC) writes, “Moving into a house or apartment is part of the process too, arranging furniture and kitchen gear makes the place our home.” Lani writes, “I live in Chiang Mai Thailand, a growing mid-sized city, in an apartment that I rent. Since I move frequently, I feel like the first thing I want to change is the wall color! I wish I could but never can. Nevertheless, I almost always manage to make where ever I live more like home.”

We all seem to be on similar wavelengths: clean up the place. Paint if we can. Lovingly arrange our belongings. And if we own our homes, then take on one project at a time. For those who are renters and crazy enough to take on projects for the goodwill of the house, I’d like to hear your stories.

Anything we missed?

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*Hiatus to due to holiday distractions. Thanks for your patience. 

Thoughts about Home: Part One

Home is our common thread and universal conversation. Talk to a neighbor, stranger, fellow traveler halfway across the world and ask about that person’s home. Where is it? What is it like? Not everyone will have the same answers, but we innately understand each other. (And it’s a more interesting conversation than the weather.) Over the past few weeks, readers have answered questions about home and shared their stories about where they live now, what they love, and what home means to them. The conversation began with this post and this post, and continues here. Part One (today’s post) will discuss “What is Home.” Part Two will discuss the physical elements and making a residence a home. Part Three will discuss our expectations. 

Part One: What and Where is Home?

It takes me a long time before someplace becomes “home” to me.  For much of my adult life, when I said “home” I referred to my parents’ house. I never felt settled anywhere else or felt like I belonged anywhere else. Virginia was college. Nebraska was one summer. North Carolina was three years, but I knew it was temporary. I lived, wrote, ran, worked in preservation and made a few friends, but I always felt as though there was a new place to go. I had a gypsy soul. Where was I going to find another home, and what exactly did I want? I didn’t have answers. I called this form of wanderlust “geographic commitment phobia.”

Over four years ago, I moved to Vermont. Immediately, I was content to stay for a long while, which was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. However, “home” still didn’t seem like an appropriate description for Vermont. It didn’t matter that I registered my car here, attended school, voted, lived and worked in Vermont, and absolutely loved the state – it wasn’t yet home.  The feeling of home took a long time. In fact, it took about four years with many twists, turns, and moves. What happened? Finally, I discovered where I wanted to be and found a great community of friends. To me, that’s what home is after your childhood home: loving where you live (meaning your city/town and your residence) and having friends to share it with. That must sound obvious to many, but it can take a while to get it right – to find that happy, comforting place (other than your childhood house).

Mary (from NYC) writes that she had trouble feeling at home while living in the Panama Canal Zone. “The home of my childhood and young adulthood was the midwest. And then. . . at the age of 34 my husband and I accepted teaching positions in the Panama Canal Zone, where we stayed until we retired. Many “Zonians” felt that Panama was home, but I never did. Frequently I would ask myself, “What am I doing here?” It was, of course, a foreign environment–although the Canal Zone itself was all American. Still we were surrounded by a foreign culture and that is an easy explanation, I suppose, of why I never felt “at home.” Actually, I believe it was more the weather, the vegetation, the lack of seasons. I could never get used to a place where birds were green. Now I am back in the States–in New York City, which is a far cry from my midwestern roots, in many respects, but I feel quite at home.”

Not all feel the same. Some of you are lucky and feel at home immediately. Dave W (from NYC) phrased it nicely: “We’ve always adhered to the philosophy of “home is where the hearth is.” I guess we’re somewhat nomadic, never afraid to try living in a new place (though New York City is very hard to leave, with its endless things to do). We’ve always felt at home as soon as we’ve settled in a bit, cooked a meal, and slept comfortably. Whether in the mountains of Germany, working-class London, or New York City, we’ve always felt “at home” right away, wherever we lived.”

Interestingly, the varied responses all referenced home without outwardly defining it. It’s something we don’t have to specifically describe to know what someone means. (OR, you’re all excellent students and only answered the exact questions you were asked! I did not ask how you define home. Please do so in the comments if you’re so inclined.)

Based on your answers: home is where you live, where you work, where you shop, where you enjoy being. Jenny (Vermont) defines home as where her family is. Jane (Vermont) wrote that she does all of these things (live, work, sleep, play, socialize, etc.) here, and that makes it home.

Home is so many things: a particular landscape, the built environment, a feeling, who you’re with and where you feel a connection. Home is where you live your life and it is a place that defines you for a critical chapter of your life. There is not one answer suited for everyone, and there is no right or wrong explanation. It’s nice to know that different places are home to different people, because each place will be important to someone (“this place matters”).

Stay tuned for Thoughts about Home: Part Two, which will share more readers’ thoughts on how to make a place home (what changes do we make, what matters to us).

Home in Vermont

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Everyone gave such great answers to the questions about home, that it is taking more time to prepare than anticipated. It’s a great subject, and I’ll be sharing soon. Thanks all!

Home, Continued

Happy week of Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thank you to everyone who has emailed and commented on the questions about home. Your thoughts are great. It’s not too late if you haven’t shared your thoughts yet.

Why am I asking all of these questions? Consider this casual research, but I’m interested to see overlaps and variations between people all over the country. Do we all have similar feelings? The feeling of home is innate, I assume, but our definitions of home can be different. It can take a long time for a place to feel like home for some us (I find it takes years). And how do we work at making someplace home? I aim to piece together a tapestry of answers from everyone, just in time for Thanksgiving, when we’re with family and friends, presumably someplace that is home. So if you would like to part of this Thanksgiving story, please share (as much or as little as you’d like).

I forgot to ask you: how long until you feel like where you live is home? What are the deciding factors?

pointlookout

Discussion on home might be centered on residences, but geography and place are just as important, if not more important. Point Lookout, NY was my first home, and will always be a home to me.

Twenty Questions (Give or Take) About Home

~ HOME ~

Taking a nod from the conference conversation starters, I’d like to ask you these, in hopes of getting us to talk about where we live, why we ;ive where we do, and how we make someplace our home, along with decisions along the way. As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on home, family, friends and the good things in life. Places and homes matter, and it’s important to understand our own preferences and it is interesting to hear those of others. Please comment below, or send an email to preservationinpink@gmail.com if you would like to share or have additional thoughts on the matter.

  1. Where do you live?
    • City? Country? Suburbia? New urbanism? Neighborhood? Development? Village? Rural? Urban?
    • North, south, east, west? Coast? Plains? Mountains?
  2. How do you define live?
    • Play? Work? Sleep? Socialize? Eat? Exercise? Rest?
  3. In what type of residence do you live?
    • Single family house? Apartment building? House divided into apartments? Duplex? Rowhouse?
  4. What is the age of your house?
    • Is it historic? Is it just “old”? Is it new?
  5. Do you rent or own currently?
  6. Do you prefer to rent or own?
  7. What is the first thing you want to change about a residence?
    • Paint? Ceilings? Rugs? Appliances?
  8. What is your ideal place to live?
    • Do you expect “ideal” to change?
  9. Do you live where you thought you would live?

 

Preservation Photos #193

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It’s the little things that give a place character like beautiful glass door knobs and etched metal key plates. Small details like this are hardly small.

Home Sweet Home

How did you enjoy the hop, skip & jump across the United States last week? Thank you, again, to our hosts, Ali & Hume, Maria, Sarah & Jen for sharing their homes in the House Hopping with Preservationists series. And as nice as it to take a trip somewhere, it is always sweet to return home. I hope you all want to give your homes a hug and smile while you sit in your living room, bedroom, kitchen or whatever your favorite room is.

Last week, like many northerners this time of year, we headed to the Caribbean, in particular the U.S. Virgin Islands. And we relaxed in the sun on beautiful beaches and did our best to avoid reality for the week. We had time for hiking, photographing the scenery and gazing at the beautiful blue waters. We couldn’t believe the water actually looks like it does in pictures. We strolled through historic districts and among historic ruins in the Virgin Islands National Park and have many photographs to share.

View in the US Virgin Islands National Park in St. John. No photo editing needed to get these colors.

And as wonderful as a vacation it, we are always happy to come home to our house, our cats, our lives and our favorite state of Vermont, even though stepping back into reality is not easy.

Have a lovely Monday afternoon.

Home

“Each one of us everywhere defines ourself through the place where we were born and raised. The sense of place shapes each of us in deep and lasting ways. Each of us carries within ourselves a “little postage stamp of native soil” (William Faulkner), and it is to this place that each of us goes to find our clearest, deepest sense of identity.”

Bill Ferris, Chair, NEH, 1998

______

Yesterday my grandmother hosted a family reunion, with family and friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the last party, already one decade ago. My grandmother remains a classic figure and she has always known how to throw a smashing party, but my favorite part of the evening was long after the party had ended. A few relatives and I sat around the house with my dad’s cousin and my dad as they told many stories about the family. They described the people I had never met, the houses I had never been in, who had what kind of temperament, who did what for a living, and so much more. Hearing these stories are priceless memories and knowledge.  And having heard the characteristics of certain family members, generations above mine, I can identify with them because of a certain characteristic or hobby, and so much about myself and my immediate family falls into place. And while they shared these stories, we sat in my grandmother’s house, which has always been home to me. Between the house, the place, the company, and newly known (to me) connections to my ancetors, I had never felt more at home.

The Tooth Fairy

Families have a lot of quirks; particularly in terms of which mementos they save over the years. From photographs to material possessions to brochures of visited places to finger paintings from elementary school, you never know what will appear years later while visiting home.  A few days before I came home to visit, my father informed me that he had saved the baby teeth from all of my sisters and me as well as the accompanying notes that we wrote to the Tooth Fairy. He hasn’t actually shown us the teeth yet, but he will. (My dad played the Tooth Fairy and always left us one dollar for our tooth and some “fairy dust” – glitter. Come to think of it, I did always wonder why the Tooth Fairy’s response looked like Dad’s handwriting. And the Easter Bunny’s, too…)

Perhaps saving baby teeth is a bit weird to someone who is not a parent, but it seems to fall in the same category as saving a lock of hair after a child’s first haircut. And just as my dad saves the letters that we wrote to the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, I have saved the letters written in response. Someday we’ll piece them together to remember what we were thinking as young children. So while I’m not fond of looking at old teeth, I like to have letters from long ago, however silly they are.

Does anyone else have parents who have secretly saved childhood “mementos” to bring out of storage at random times?  It’s always interesting to come home, but it’s also comforting to fit into my family, where we all have similar quirks. And such a factor is the root of our shared identity.

If you’re wondering about the glitter – it was perfectly acceptable in a family of four girls.

Family Photographs

It’s my last day at home in New York and we’re consumed by chores such as packing, cleaning, and finding the new cat to bring him to the vet.  But another important task is moving the old family photographs from the garage into the house. Photographs have come up on Preservation in Pink from time to time.  This latest batch is from my grandparents’ apartment who have boxes and boxes of ca. 1940 photographs.  They are labeled thanks to my grandmother.

When my mom and aunt cleaned out my grandparents’ apartment after their father died in June 2007, they had to have the important items shipped up here to New York.  This now means that cardboard boxes in our garage are full of photographs and other family mementos and heirlooms. Lacking a climate controlled archive and just space, storing these photographs is a problem.  Our first step is to get them out of the garage and out of the cardboard boxes. For now, until we can come up with a better solution, we are transferring them to the ever popular plastic storage bins.

Plastic storage bins? That’s all I can think of for now. Do you have better suggestions? The next time I am home it will be my mission to get some acid free boxes.  At least they will not be in the garage or the attic or the direct sunlight. These are irreplaceable photographs. I should make digitizing them a project as well. But first – out of the cardboard. Second, acid free boxes. Third, labels on the boxes (with acid free ink).  Fourth, digitizing. Fifth, a summary of the photographs or something like that.  Seems like I suddenly have another job the next time I come home!  It is a project that will be a gift to future generations of my family, so I’m proud to sort through these photographs and properly store them.

What do you do with your family photographs? Do you have any suggestions for me as I embark on my personal preservation project?